27 March 2013


For the longest time, my runs are out and back and always a different route from day to day.  I have five or so different routes to choose from and it's nice to have the change of scenery, from waterfront to boardwalk then residential etc.  However, lately, I've made exceptions to my routine.  I pretty much run in my neighborhood, about 3.2 km out and back as if I am a bird, but the actual distance usually comes out to more than 10 km.  How?  I've been experimenting with GPS writing, or gwriting for short.

As a runner wears a GPS watch go about with his running, his path is recorded and can be viewed on a map.  Usually it's just a straight line out and back, or maybe a loop.  But a lot can be done beyond the line and the loop.  I originally found out about gwriting from seeing some route traced out in the shape of a heart, around the time of Valentine's Day.  As an Apple fan boy, my first thought was the Apple logo, but I never tried to do it.  Instead, one day on the futbol fields of Calvert Vaux Park I tried to spell "NYCRUNS", that little race management company that puts out small foot races with a community feel.  I used the Charity Miles app and was able to pause and resume as I went from letter to letter.  Not bad for a first time, but I got the letters for "RUNS" so close together.  The trouble with trying to gwriting on an open field is you have less reliable points of reference.  I thought I used so and so marker on the field but by the time I got back I didn't walk straight and wrote some letters too closely.
The very first time I gave gwriting a try.  It was not too shabby considering I did not use any exact reference points.
The next time I try gwriting the letters were "PPTC", short for Prospect Park Track Club, which I am an active member of.  Appropriately enough, I wrote the letters on Long Meadow of the park itself.  Again, without a good point of reference the letters did not come out perfect.
Appropriately, I tried to spell "PPTC", for Prospect Park Track Club, on Long Meadow of Prospect Park.  Only if the T was not so close to the P.

Some day later I tried to spell "NEWTOWN", my high school in Elmhurst, Queens, New York, in my own neighborhood of Bath Beach, Brooklyn.  Ideally I should do it in the school's neighborhood, but I live quite a drive away and I don't like to combine driving with running.  Unlike writing in an open field, the rectangular nature of the street grid posed an extra challenge.  Also, like the other attempts, the writing appears to be upside down when viewed on a map, with north pointing up.  No problem, I'll try to write better on the next run.  The only down side is I'll be stuck with running in Bath Beach for the time being, no scenic waterfront view.  Starting with this run, I used my GPS watch, which has much better battery life compared to Charity Miles running on the Samsung Galaxy S smartphone.  The one big downside with the GPS is that pausing and resuming do not work as I expected.  A straight line would be drawn from the pause point to the resume point, so I basically have to write continuously.  For some letters I just have to run back and forth along a stroke so to avoid having extra lines.  When there's no choice, I try to keep the extra lines at the bottom of the letters.
"Upside down" NEWTOWN, the first time I tried to "spell" my high school's name.

With today's run, along Bath Avenue and 86th Street and the streets in-between, from Bay 41st Street to Bay 19th Street, I got so much closer to the perfect NEWTOWN.  On earlier runs I used Benson Avenue and Harway Avenue/Cropsey Avenue and had to run around the bus depot at 25th Avenue because the depot took up two blocks.  Using Bath and 86th left the depot out of my path.  Ideally all the letters should be uppercase or all lowercase, but the street grid and time limit do not allow the luxury.  Making the N lowercase solves the issue of the diagonal stroke.  Instead of running two avenues, I can extend to three avenues, but then I will have to cover even more distance.  Not that I cannot cover the greater distance, but I am a slow runner and there is only so much time I can devote to running each day.  For example, the E in NEWTOWN should be wider but by then I was supposed to head back to pick up dinner that my mother already called in to the restaurant.

One thing I enjoyed immensely is that I actually spelled the letters backward as I wrote them, so that they appear right-side up on the map.  I live near the end of NEWTOWN, so instead of running some distance out and spell from left to right, I spelled it backward.  I still underestimated the letter widths and T came out bad, but there's always another run in the future.  In the mean time, take a look at how the route is traced out at


Go to the Player view and click the Play button.  The route is pretty flat, I think the change in altitude is wrong, or probably just me raising my watch arm.

Close-up view of my GPS NEWTOWN.
From far away, it still looks like NEWTOWN, even though the T should be wider.

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